This week, I represented CLCV at a public meeting hosted by Senator Dianne Feinstein about three proposed new national monuments in the California desert: Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains.
See CLCV and national League of Conservation Voters' statement on protecting the California desert.
Breathtaking views and landscapes at Whitewater Preserve greeted attendees as we made our way to the meeting location, and I could not fathom anyone would oppose the preservation of these desert lands after seeing them in person.
It was apparent that almost every one of the several hundred attendees felt similarly, but the process to achieve enhanced protection was the point of contention.
Senator Feinstein opened the meeting and spent some time explaining her years of effort on a legislative route to dedicate Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains as National Monuments. Nearly everyone showed their support for this process, and it became clear the public wants the lands to be protected. Senator Feinstein then explained Congressional gridlock has prevented the legislation to move forward, so she is simultaneously pursuing the option for President Obama to protect Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains as National Monuments under the Antiquities Act. Again, many of the attendees showed support by cheering, but there was a minor but significant number of attendees who booed this option.
After the Senator's remarks, members from the Obama Administration, Congressman Aguilar (CA-31), Congressman Ruiz (CA-36), a representative for Congressman Cook (CA-8), local, state and county Officials also spoke on the issue. Everyone, save Congressman Cook's staff and one local elected official, supported both options--executive action or legislation-to name the desert areas as National Monuments. Senator's Feinstein's efforts to bring everyone to the table were lauded; however, even she seemed doubtful Congress will take action on the issue, so Executive Action prevailed as the best avenue to permanently protect Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains. If named National Monuments, they would be some of the most ecologically diverse in the country.
After an hour and a half of listening to the various officials, it was time for the much awaited public comment period. I was one of the first selected to make a comment and read CLCV's statement of support for Executive Action from the President to protect the lands to the high standard they deserve, while remaining open to Congressional action. Many of the public comments echoed CLCV's stance, with a few anti-executive action comments sprinkled in.
If the meeting's beautiful location in The Wildlands Conservancy's Whitewater Preserve was not convincing enough, Senator Feinstein's thorough explanations, official's & stakeholder's support, and strong public support demonstrated Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains need to be dedicated as National Monuments. While there remains concern about the Executive Action route, a dysfunctional Congress makes this option the best and most likely to occur.
Lastly, if anyone has the opportunity to visit these special locations in the California Desert I highly encourage you to do so, and hopefully once they're designated National Monuments generations to come will have the opportunity to appreciate their beauty as well.